South of Maceio: Barra de Sao Miguel & Gunga
On your journey down the southern coast of Maceió, Barra de São Miguel is the first destination that offers uncrowded, pristine beaches, the kind everyone is looking for. In fact, the beauty and variety of this area is one of the best-kept secrets of the Brazilian coast. You will not find water more transparent and warm or beaches more picture perfect than here in Barra de São Miguel and its neighbor Praia da Gunga.
Like much of the coastline in the Brazil’s Northeast region, here, offshore reefs block the incoming tide and form a long, narrow pool of calm, clear water. The pool receives both ocean water and river water, making it exceptionally clear and clean. Called Lagoa do Roteiro, the pool is quite shallow, perfect for swimming along with the tiny fish that come up around you. At low tide, you can walk out onto the reefs for miles and check out the small crabs and tropical fish in the pools left behind by the tide. Out farther, near the barrier reef, you can partake in some excellent snorkeling activity (you should bring your own gear). If you like strolling along the shoreline, there is plenty of that to go around and simple beach kiosks are clustered around the vilarejo (village) area, where you can order lunch and drinks on the sand or on the shady patio overlooking the water.
You’ll probably find Barra de São Miguel an excellent place to hang out for a night or two–there is certainly plenty to keep you captive, and you won’t find a more agreeable place on the southern coast of Maceió.
Excursions in Alagoas: Barra de Sao Miguel
On the beach in front of the vilarejo, you can rent a kayak to paddle out to the reefs for snorkeling or, if you’re in good shape, out to Praia da Gunga some 30 paddling minutes away. You can go with or without a guide for around R$20 per hour (negotiate a discount for more than 3 hours). Boats of various sizes are also available to take you around these waters and to Gunga for the day. These cost around R$30 per person. Another trip will take you to the Isle of Tres Corações, where you can walk around the shallow waters and sandy beaches at low tide.
If you want something dryer and less strenuous than paddling a kayak some three kilometers up the mouth of the river separating São Miguel and Gunga (with the Ilha Tres Corações in the middle), then you might enjoy a trip in a large Schooner. This excursion leaves from the cais, or pier, downtown and not from the village area.
You can visit Praia da Gunga and other parts of Barra de São Miguel by buggy. Just ask around at the vilarejo for Aluisio (82/9313-4958).
The Village and Town Center
Barra de São Miguel is not a sophisticated place. Both the village and town center are small and rustic. The village is just a couple of streets near the main beach. There you’ll find some shops and simple restaurants that operate mostly during the day. There are also a couple of hotels near the village. About three kilometers south is the town center, where you’ll find a couple of banks, a post office, more simple restaurants, several small markets and the cais, where you can catch a boat excursion.
Praia da Gunga
The reef at Barra de São Miguel runs parallel to the coast for about six kilometers until it bumps into at a sandy point on the other side of the river’s mouth, called the Praia da Gunga. The reef divides Gunga Beach into two parts: the part inside the reef, which has calm ocean and river water, and the part outside the reef, which has large waves and rough surf. Both sides are beautiful and you can walk between them in a few seconds. The wavy side has several small beach bars near the point and then stretches on for about two kilometers to the next point. The entire stretch of beach is fenced-off by a palm tree grove. The calm side has small kiosks that serve beer, coconut water, and various lunch plates. You can find a nice, shady table, then take a Jet Ski out for a 10-minute ride. If you do not want to drive, then take a ride on a banana boat. Buggy excursions also leave from Gunga to various spots nearby.
During the week in the off-season, Gunga is not crowded and the kiosks have limited selections. But the sandy point is as picturesque as any tropical beach you’re ever likely to see. If you decide to stay for a second day, set yourself up in a hotel in Barra de São Miguel.
Barra de Sao Miguel: Accommodations
The first hotel in town (about three kilometers before the village) is the BrisaMar Pousada, one block away from the beach at a more turbulent (and deserted) section of the coastline. You can walk along the beach from the hotel to the village in about 45 minutes. The owner of the BrisaMar is an extremely friendly and helpful guy named Edival, who will set you up with anything you need while you’re in town. His pousada is small and charming with clean rooms, hammocks, a swimming pool, and a darned good breakfast (included). R$80 single and R$120 double. Approximately R$160 and R$225 in peak season. The most modern hotel in Barra de São Miguel is in the village area on the beach, called the Village Barra Hotel (Rua Senador Armon de Mello 65, 82/272-1000, www.villagebarrahotel.com.br, email@example.com). The place was recently renovated to include three floors of modern rooms overlooking the beach, a large reception area and sala, and a beautiful pool and patio overlooking the ocean. The hotel has its own boat for excursions (extra) and beach service. R$150 standard double occupancy and R$200 suite.
Barra de Sao Miguel: Food and Entertainment
When it’s open, the Canoa Restaurante in the town center is probably the best in town. They serve the regional favorite Sopa de Maçune, (pronounced ma-SOO-nee) a rich soup made from small mollusks found in the local waters. (In the summer, Barra de São Miguel celebrates the festival of Maçune.) Lunch options in the village include the beach kiosks, which serve fish and fries, and the Lanchonete do Aluisio, a simple place with excellent food at an excellent price. Try the Peixada fish soup. Aluisio stays open for dinner too and is the town’s principal buggy driver. He does not speak English, but is a very accommodating guy. There are restaurants at Praia da Gunga in case you head there for the day.
In the month of December, a place called Nilquin produces folklore festivals, dances and events in their large fazenda (country farm), which is not far from the village. During the year, they produce Forró dancing on Saturday nights. Besides this, there is no nightlife in town.
Ask at your hotel for information on anything you need while in Barra de São Miguel. There is a Banco do Brasil in the town center with an international ATM.
Getting There and Around
Busses from Maceió leave from the main bus station, marked B. de São Miguel for about R$6. If you’re staying at the BrisaMar hotel, make sure you ask to get off before the vilarejo. You can get around town by buggy or by walking. There can take a private lotação (group taxi service) back up the coast to Praia do Francês or Maceió. Your hotel can call one for you.